Archive for October, 2011

What Good Is It?

October 28, 2011


  Across the wires earlier this week (AP I think) came the latest in the long line of contradictory studies regarding longevity.  This one holds that secrets lie in DNA.  “…it’s very hard to get there without some genetic advantages”.  How else could there be centenarians who drink like fish and smoke like smokestacks?

Made me think of Picasso for a variety of reasons not least because the anniversary of his birth was just a few days ago (October 25) and that he lived to be nearly ninety-two.  More to the point, he was conjured into this world on a puff of smoke.  Stillborn in Malaga in 1881 the attending physician gave up and gave way to Uncle Ruiz who exhaled cigar smoke into the newborn’s nostrils.

Sr. Picasso was awake, in the largest sense of the word, from that point forth and the expansiveness of his vision pervades his work and words.  Some is multivalent, some is clearly prescient: “Computers are useless, they only give you answers.”  Remember that he died in 1973.  Gates and Jobs were both only eighteen.  (BTW, Gates’ bday is today.)

Few great people would make it through the pearly gates on the first try and Picasso’s no exception.  He’s probably a drag queen in hell.  Still, though, confusingly I guess, he led his life in a fashion to be admired having done so contrarily demonstrative of the admonition of Jung that you’ve previously seen here: “The more a man’s life is shaped by the collective norm, the greater is his individual immorality.”

Picasso: “If you jump, you might fall on the wrong side of the rope.  But if you’re not willing to take the risk of breaking your neck, what good is it?  You have to wake people up.  To revolutionize their way of identifying things.  Force them to understand that they’re living in a pretty queer world.  A world that’s not reassuring.  A world that’s not what they think it is.”

You know, great artists look back upon the zeitgeist.

*Story of his birth and the quote came from: Picasso by Norman Mailer.

Round Trip Two Bucks

October 21, 2011


  Story goes that sometime in the late 1800’s a Mr. JK Graves, banker, formerDubuque,IAmayor, and former state senator, reached the point in his life at which he looked forward to a nap after lunch.  Problem was that his office was at the bottom of a cliff and house atop.  Buggy ride took half hour one way.

  Mr. Graves had been to Europewhere he’d seen inclined railways and decided thus to address the sleep deficit issue.  What you see here is not original equipment, but is a bit worse for wear.  Not scary though.

  Rises from a neat little neighborhood nook for a whimsical short journey up to summit pay station where a nice lady asks “one way or round trip?”.  I could always use a nap, but my bed was more than a funicular away.  “Round trip”.

  View, as you can see, was spectacular.  Those who traverse our fine state via I-80 might marvel at our agricultural prowess – or maybe just yawn – but either way get nary a notion of myriad unique opportunities for non-farm scintillation.  Arcane though some may be.


October 15, 2011


  The painting above is “The Ray” by Jean-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) and is remarkable for the rendering of a gruesome scene as something compellingly sublime.  Of it Marcel Proust wrote: “strange monster…tinted with red blood, azure nerves, and white sinews like the nave of a polychrome cathedral”.

  Imagine!  An intellect as great as Proust comparing a painting of mangled dead sea ray with the central aspect of a type of architecture that reached its zenith there inFrancesome centuries earlier.  Philosopher Diderot wrote of Chardin’s talent: “secret of redeeming through skill the disgusting aspect” of a reality.

  Reminds me of writer Cormac McCarthy who accomplishes the same feat (maybe even outdoes Chardin) with his prose.  Check this out:  “His entrails were hauled forth and delineated and the four young students who bent over him like those haruspices of old perhaps saw monsters worse to come in their configurations”.

  OK. It is clearly impossible to convey, with a short excerpt, the entirety of a book in the way one can of a picture with a reproduction.   But of its essence a great writer might.  Let me elaborate a bit on that sentence and hopefully you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of McCarthy’s skill.

  Those words come near the end of Child of God and describe the final stages of a med-school dissection of the corpse of the chief protagonist and in their brevity almost recapitulate the entire work.  Elmer Ballard was a murderer and necrophiliac who roamed the hills of East Tennesse, was never indicted, and checked himself into the state home (“I’m supposed to be here”) where he died.

  Ballard was then the referent to the idea of “monsters worse to come” and one of those he indeed was.  The redemptive qualities of McCarthy’s prose McCarthy draw us inexorably through the stunning tale.  It’s not that we can’t look away – we don’t want to.

  The title of the book is also a referent of a word in the sentence quoted above.  Taken at face value, Child of God says that yep, white with the black, we are all part of the Lord’s flock.  Taken ironically: the thought of a dude up there in a robe and slippers is no less nuts than the reading the future in entrails – which is what a particular sort of ancient Roman priest (a “haruspex”) did.

  After Ballard’s remains were interred the bodies of more victims were discovered in a cave.  Here’s how the book ends: “In the evening a jeep descended the log road towing a trailer in the bed of which lay seven bodies bound in muslin like enormous hams.  As they went down the valley in the new fell dark basking nighthawks rose from the dust in the road before them with wild wings and eyes red as jewels in the headlights.”

*Chardin’s painting came to mind from reading Mary Tompkins Lewis’ take on it in the 10/8+9 WSJ.

One Fell

October 7, 2011


  Wife out of town again.  This time ministering post appendectomic daughter.  Interesting that these days doc doesn’t make one big slit, but several smaller ones instead.  Shoves flashlight into one, looks in another, and fishes vestigial organ out with a coat hanger or something through a third.

  Anyway, home alone one night and took a call from a friend I’d not seen in thirty-five years.  While talking about past exploits and future plans he reminded me of the ground breaking 1972 Chouinard Equipment Catalogue the cover of which you see above.

  It was a paradigm shifter for many reasons – not least because of its rich production values.  (Speaking of value, copies sell today for $250!)  More importantly it was an exhortation for conservation of the vertical environment – “clean climbing” as well as the proclamation of a new moral imperative to retain real adventure in the experience of it.

  What though does this have to do with my friend’s and my considerations of next moves?  Well, open the cover and the first words one reads are Einstein’s: “A perfection of means and a confusion of aims seems to be our main problem.”  Said differently, a typical life from zero to sixty.

  Takes that long to take care of business, shake things out a bit, and begin to see through the lens of your own specs, not someone else’s.  To realize as Jung wrote: “The more a man’s life is shaped by the collective norm, the greater is his individual immorality”.

  As the conversation drew to its close with warm wishes and promises to keep in touch I pulled my copy from the shelf and paged through.  I was transported to a place long gone and paths not taken.  Not yet anyway.  I turned to the last page and a lyric courtesy of the Stones: “Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind”. 

  I was electrified.  I dumped out the rest of the wine in my glass (seriously) and took dog outside to look at the stars.  One fell.  Our walk around the block felt like an airborne perambulation.  Had my friend not had me by the leash, I would have floated away.

*In case you don’t know, Chouinard went on to found Patagonia and set the pace for corporate environmental activism as well as outside cool.

**It’s never been lost to me that I was in that place long gone when my now roommate began to take serious interest in me (even though I didn’t use deodorant!).